by Anna Ferraro
At the stroke of 7pm on May 11th, Amanda Terry and her high-school choir mounted the risers in the A-C Central gym. It was a big moment for the young conductor. Since coming to A-C Central in January of 2016, Terry had five months to prepare the entire grade range of students for two choral concerts.
But no worries, Terry is used to being an over-achiever. After graduating high school at age 17 and being medically disqualified from Air Force Basic Training, she went on a “semester at sea,” taking college classes while sailing around the world.
Then settling into her true passion – vocal performance – Terry completed her bachelor’s in Music Education from Western Illinois University. Graduating in December 2015, she was immediately hired by A-C Central to teach choir and general music to grades K-12 – and start right in the middle of the school year.
Terry says, “When I started that first day [in January], I told them we were going back to the basics.” It was an intense semester for Terry – she worked tirelessly with her students during the days, and then by herself an additional 2-3 hours after school each night. She shares that she lost a lot of sleep “laying in bed thinking about what needed to be worked on the next day.”
There were days when she worked the choral pieces from beginning to end. Other times, end to beginning. She rehearsed in unison, then individual parts. For additional creativity, she and her student’s improvised solos, added sign language, and even planned a beautiful version of “Amazing Grace” with “audience improvisation.”
Including Classical, Jazz, sacred, movie, and pop music, the concert culminated in a rendition of “Dubula” – a mesmerizing African Zulu song. Beginning with mournful melodies and slow hand motions, the song transitions into stunning vocal harmonies and fast rhythms. The risers came to life as the dozens of students in the combined choirs of A-C Central performed with lively hand motions, mimicking a joyous tribal celebration.
The student’s faces glowed while they sang – they knew they were good, and they knew their teacher was good. In just five months, Terry had formed them into a talented, unified group – and at the end of the concert, everybody knew it.
But more than that, Terry had given the students confidence in their abilities. At the beginning of the semester, the students were reluctant to open their mouths saying, “We’re afraid of singing it wrong.” By the end of the semester, things were different. Looking back, Terry said, “I saw them all grow as a group.”
Looking ahead, she hopes to work on “continuing to recruit students, and watching the younger ones… be the foundation for building the high school program.”
But wherever her vocal and teaching career takes her in the future, Terry has no worries – if she applies half the energy that she did in her semester at A-C Central, it can’t help but be a smashing success!